By Eric Crampton 30/04/2018


The Electoral Commission is worried that its published electoral lists – the list of each voter and that voter’s address – could be misused. From Bryce Edwards’ summary:

Currently there is almost a “free for all” in the use of printed electoral roll data. All sorts of companies, such as debt collectors and marketers make use of the printed electoral roll in order to carry out their commercial activities. There are huge privacy issues involved, which the law appears to be ignorant of, and there are people who therefore choose not to enroll to vote precisely because they don’t want their residential addresses to be made public.

There are also increasing concerns about analytical manipulation of personal data, and cyber incursions, which is made more possible by advances in technology. So, if the electoral roll data gets into the wrong hands, there could be significant personal privacy breaches. And, of course, such misuse of electoral data could undermine confidence in the Commission and the electoral process.

The risk is made worse by the fact that the political parties are provided with the electoral roll in electronic form. This is a provision designed by the politicians so that their parties can more effectively send election advertising to voters and so forth. It’s questionable whether the parties should be given this data, and it seems that it’s an accident waiting to happen, as there are no procedures or guarantees that any of the 16 registered political parties will prevent this personal data falling into the wrong hands. The Commission certainly raises questions about whether recipients really use the data safely and appropriately.

I have a very simple suggestion. If the Commission is particularly worried about the electronic roll, why not put a couple different dummy names into the lists supplied to each party? Those dummy names could share an address with, say, the head of the Elections Commission. Or a cousin. If the fake names start getting mail in ways that suggest improper use of the electronic list, then the Commission could do whatever it does about that kind of thing.

Sure, parties could guard against that by running the printed electoral list against the electronic one, but doing that would basically would require recreating the electronic list – unless there is stuff on the electronic list that isn’t on the print version.

Even suggesting that they have done it might be enough.